Managing Incoming Enquiries 

I’ve been a training consultant since 2004 and have worked with many UK and international clients.  As a company we specialise in blended and virtual learning and this is based on over 10 years’ experience in developing these approaches for global organisations. 

I have also been personally responsible for multiple ‘in-business’ consultancy and coaching programmes that have been designed specifically with one goal in mind – improvement. Whether that be customer experience, sales generation, process improvement or personal development.

Often, when called in to increase sales within a business we are usually tasked by the senior management with improving the prospecting activity of the sales team, generating new business and growing sales. More often than not we tend to find most of the sales improvement at the other end of the process – enquiry management.

Let me explain, when the goal is to create some kind of sales-based improvement, we simply breakdown the sales process (or customer buying experience) into four key areas:

  1. Enquiry Management
  2. Sales Activity
  3. Loyalty – Renewals and Referrals
  4. Blended Prospecting

Then we examine each area on 3 levels:

Describe, demonstrate and document, or tell me, show me, prove it.

When discussing the businesses operations with the management, we will usually be told what they think we should hear. Our processes are great, and our salespeople are legends. That’s the tell me. Describe  what normally happens, and you can understand a little defence here because nobody likes to be scrutinised.

The next level is to try to observe what actually happens in the course of the business operation. This is where things start to look a little different. This is observation (show me) or demonstration – what actually happens. 

The third stage is prove it or documentation. How do we prove that those process steps actually happen every time? A great example of this is that if you go to a McDonald’s pretty much anywhere in the world, you will be asked the same question… ‘do you want to go large?’ Consider how that affect is actually achieved and also the impact on the business. Let’s assume at this point that one third of their customers say yes. That’s an extra 30p revenue, 5-10% increase in customer spend each time. Just for asking a question.

So, surely businesses are good at managing incoming enquires, that’s what they are there for? Right?  

Well, actually, in my experience… no, not as good as you would expect. There are lots of reasons for this and I won‘t get into all of that detail. What I will say though is that there is a very easy fix. The fix is in measures and controls.

So as a small business how do I measure my incoming customer enquiries and how do I make sure each one is managed well and followed through to the best possible outcome?

Well, there are two types of measures I can use, quantitative and qualitative. How many do we have and who are they? 

A simple solution for the first is to have some kind of log (this can be a post-it note or a complex piece of software.) The basic concept here is that every time you have an enquiry you make a mark. At the end of the day, week or month you’ll have a quantitative measure of your enquiries. 

The enemy here is selective recording. Only recording those that you think are genuine enquires, people who want to buy, etc. Think about your website for example. We can measure every contact to a website and any insights programme will give you a detailed view of your visitors. It will record every visitor and tell you where they came from and what they did. The first key measure is the volume, the second key measure is the bounce rate. What this means is how many people came to your site but left straight away. Didn’t explore, didn’t click on any pages, just simply clicked back and left. 

Now, if I review these two figures, they will tell me how attractive my website is to my potential audience and how effective my advertising and visitor experience are. If I have a high bounce rate and then change my content or change my advertising to reduce that rate, I’m likely to increase sales (or at least engagement.)

I can use this same process for physical sales. Do people walk in the door knowing what I offer and what to expect – this can be a direct effect of the communication/ promotion and advertising I have in place. If they are aligned, my ‘bounce rate’ should be relatively low. If not, then there may be some conflict in my communications.

Next is qualitative. How well do I engage my customers, work to understand their needs, provide an engaging and enjoyable experience and record these actions and details? 

This is where things get tricky and more so the more complex your offerings are. A good way to approach this is to break down your qualification process into simple stages.

Stage 1 – Who are you and what do you want?

My first line of qualification is almost a filter – are they in the right place and can we provide them with the right solution? This is a simple process and you should find the customer willing to divulge this level of information relatively easily as they are there for that very same reason in most cases. 

This simple first line qualification is the start of the customer experience (at least as far as physical interactions go) and is therefore critical. This will not only determine their future behaviour with us, but also set a tone for our behaviours with them. 

Stage 2 – Understanding their needs

This is a more in-depth level of qualification- sometimes very complex depending on your products or services and can entail finding out specific detailed information. A simple restaurant booking for example can be easy or may need to identify ingredients, wine stocks, pricing and other information such as directions. 

This second stage is often found in the second area of our diagnosis – Sales Activity.

What’s important to know at this stage is the difference between the two.

One of the challenges with managing this seemingly simple step in the process is the growing complexity of sales channels. Nowadays a customer may contact you through your website, email, telephone, text, Whats App, mail or even just walk in through the door!

And here’s the thing. If you had 1 customer to deal with and you knew when they were due to arrive, you could be ready, focussed and deliver an outstanding experience, but then 3 arrive at the same time, the phone is ringing and you’ve got 24 emails to respond to. What happens to the customer experience at that point?

So before you throw money at advertising, focus time and effort on prospecting or start on a price led campaign, review your enquiry management processes, identify the areas to create sales developments and improvements, and increase your effectiveness with an already existing audience. When you then come to those other activities, you’ll find a much greater return is possible.

 

Thank you for reading

– Alan

 

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